Doing Our Own Work Facilitators
Depending on the nature of the engagement, Allies for Change draws in a number of resource providers, including the Doing Our Own Work facilitators whose biographies are featured below. All Allies for Change engagements are negotiated by Melanie Morrison, Allies for Change founder and director.
Melanie S. Morrison
Melanie S. Morrison is founder and executive director of Allies for Change. She is a seasoned anti-oppression educator, activist, and author with 30 years experience designing and facilitating transformational group process. Melanie is passionate about working with individuals and organizations to better understand the connections between systemic oppressions and to nurture collaborative action and authentic relationship across differences such as race, age, gender, abilities, and sexual orientation. She believes it is possible to grow ever more aware of the depth and complexity of injustice without surrendering our capacity for compassion, joy, and hope.
Melanie has provided training and consultation for a wide variety of educational and non-profit organizations including Michigan State University's College of Education, Yale Divinity School, The Understanding Race Project of Washtenaw County, and Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. She worked with Shayla Griffin, Ph.D., to design and facilitate trainings for Creating Culturally Proficient Communities, a five-year initiative on racial and economic justice in Ypsilanti Community Schools.
Melanie has been a keynote speaker at national and regional conferences addressing issues of racial, disability, and sexual justice. She served as consultant to the United Church of Christ's Sacred Conversation on Race, a national initiative launched in April 2008. She co-founded Doing Our Own Work, an intensive anti-racism program for white people, and has led this program for 24 consecutive years. With Allies for Change colleagues, Melanie launched Building Alliances, Sustaining Inclusive Communities in 2013; a social justice institute that invites leaders in justice-based organizations to address the intersections of race, disability, and class.
Melanie is the author of four books including The Grace of Coming Home: Spirituality, Sexuality, and the Struggle for Justice, and her writing has appeared in numerous journals. Her latest book, Murder On Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham, was released in March 2018 by Duke University Press.
Prior to founding Allies for Change, Melanie was executive director of The Leaven Center, a retreat and study center in Lyons, Michigan, dedicated to nurturing the relationship between spirituality and social justice. As a United Church of Christ pastor, she served three congregations; two in Michigan and one in the Netherlands. As adjunct faculty, she has taught anti-racism seminars at Chicago Theological Seminary and Methodist Theological School in Ohio.
Melanie has a Masters of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a Ph.D. from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. She lives in Okemos, Michigan with her life partner, April Allison.
Allyson S. Bolt
Allyson S. Bolt is a social worker, educator, and advocate for social justice. She has extensive experience working with survivors of domestic violence and with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities, both in Grand Rapids and in Lansing. She currently works with people who are homeless, providing case management, employment seeking assistance, and group facilitation for people experiencing loss and trauma.
Allyson furthered her work in social justice advocacy at The Leaven Center, an organization committed to nurturing the relationship between spirituality and social justice. It was in her work there that she realized the urgent and critical work of continuous examination of her own privilege and that this work must be done from a place of love, hope, and patience. She believes that if we stay stuck, afraid, or silent, we contribute to the oppression. In her spheres of influence, Allyson is committed to uprooting the evils of racism and all forms of oppression. She has a Masters in Social Work from Michigan State University and currently resides in East Lansing, Michigan.
As a public school and outdoor educator, Autumn Campbell has witnessed institutional racism through inaccurate and incomplete curriculum, school and district policies, school and classroom rules, microaggressions against People of Color, and social segregation. These experiences have led her to dedicate herself to interrupting and dismantling racist culture in her classroom and at her school.
Autumn uses an anti-oppression consciousness to address equity, inclusion, diversity, and social justice in local schools and the broader community. She created and presented professional development workshops, collaborated with Ann Arbor’s Neutral Zone, organized students for both a Social Justice and LGBTQIA Club, and participated in the county-wide diversity forum. Autumn has also created and implemented curriculum for more than 300 students with the Understanding Race Project in 2012, and volunteers with the Washtenaw countywide Culture and Diversity Task Force and the Transgender Task Force.
Autumn is dedicated to constant personal and profession development, striving to address and integrate her understanding of whiteness and unearned privileges through continuing education and meditation. She balances her personal growth with her current work at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District where she co-facilitates an in-depth social justice professional learning series for educators.
Dessa Cosma is the executive director of Detroit Disability Power, a social justice group dedicated to organizing people with disabilities in Metro Detroit.
Dessa grew up in the Deep South, splitting her time between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Augusta, Georgia. She has been a social justice advocate for as long as she can remember, starting her environmental, LGBT, and reproductive justice efforts in high school. She attended the University of Georgia, and earned bachelors degrees in International Affairs, Women's Studies, and Anthropology. After graduation, Dessa moved to Detroit to work as the senior field organizer for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Michigan.
Not only does Dessa love organizing, she loves Detroit! She helped organize the US Social Forum, which brought nearly 20,000 people to Detroit in 2010 and also helped organize the 2012 Michigan Women's Power Assembly, which drew 175 activists together for training and strategizing.
In 2014, Dessa graduated with a Masters in Social Justice from Marygrove College. At that time, she was the Michigan program director for the Center for Progressive Leadership training hundreds of activists, candidates, and campaign managers across the state. She then became the executive director of the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan, which she helped to start in collaboration with some of Detroit's best economic justice champions.
In many ways, but particularly as part of Allies for Change and the Detroit Equity Action Lab (DEAL), Dessa has been fortunate to learn from and be mentored by trainers, authors, professors, activists, artists, and thought leaders committed to racial justice, dismantling white supremacy, and creating equity.
Dessa has tremendous disability pride and is eager to continue bridging the gap between the disability community and larger social justice movements. She has particular interest in building power in the disability community that is deeply grounded in anti-racism and economic justice.
Jax Lee Gardner
Jax Lee Gardner (they/them/theirs) is the associate executive director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Jax joined the Arcus Center in February 2016 after five years with Kalamazoo College in the History and Social Science Departments.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Jax holds a master’s degree in English Literature from Western Michigan University, a bachelor’s degree from the College of Charleston, and is a professional birth doula. They previously held an ACSJL Staff Fellowship (2015) examining doula care as a vehicle for community-based anti-racist activism.
Jax has spent the last twenty-plus years working in social justice movements, both personally and professionally. Their social justice trajectory has closely followed issues of health and economic justice for women and children (particularly as they intersect with queerness and racial justice). In addition to facilitating Doing Our Own Work, Jax consults with the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker School of Medicine on their educational program to address health disparities in the LGBTQ+ population with a focus on the transgender population. Jax is also the founder and a current board member of the St. Luke’s Diaper Bank to help combat diaper need in the City of Kalamazoo.
When they're not busy fighting the good fight, Jax relishes in spending quality time with their partner and two children.
Sara Johnson (she/hers) is a founding partner of the Truth & Titus Collective, based in Battle Creek, Michigan. Truth & Titus is a consulting agency dedicated to fostering, co-creating, and sustaining organizational change with equity as the foundation.
Prior to the Collective, Sara had a seventeen-year career in secondary education. She then worked as program manager and facilitator with the Center for Diversity and Innovation in Battle Creek, where she helped organizations and individuals understand and commit to racial equity and transformation.
Alongside other learning experiences, attending the Doing Our Own Work seminar was pivotal in prompting a major shift in Sara's personal commitment and action to ending racism and all forms of oppression. Sara is especially passionate about helping other parents and educators understand how whiteness shows up within those of us who are white and in our practices, encouraging us all to do better.
Sara is active in her local SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) chapter. She enjoys speculative fiction and uses this passion to inform her vision of an equitable world. She holds a master’s in Language Learning from Wayne State University.
Her partner, Erik, and children — Matteus, Kieffer, and Owen — fill her life with support, joy, and accountability as she seeks to create change toward a world that is worthy of them.
Chris Kindy's growing awareness of "whiteness" and "white supremacy culture" has moved her steadily toward "showing up" for racial justice. As a white woman, Chris believes that the work of becoming an effective anti-racist ally is a lifelong process of learning and action; spurred on by life experience, and enhanced by participation in anti-racism and anti-oppression trainings.
A native of Battle Creek, Michigan, Chris now lives in Kalamazoo. She recently retired from a forty-year career as a public school educator. During her tenure, she served students and teachers in an impressive variety of capacities -- as a speech pathologist, classroom teacher, district literacy coordinator, district equity coordinator, and literacy consultant to school districts in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. She was engaged in the Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools of Battle Creek for ten years, participating as a member of the leadership team, grant writer, and learner.
Along with other community activists, in 2015 Chris helped organize a local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) in Southwest Michigan. That same year, Chris participated in the Center for Diversity and Innovation facilitator training; now facilitating CDI White Caucus meetings monthly in Battle Creek. Chris received her Community Coaching Certification from Leadership that Works in 2016.
Chris believes that her experience in Doing Our Own Work changed and affirmed her life by opening the door to a new liberation for her soul. She resonates with these words of Nelson Mandela, "I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity."
Emily Joye McGaughy
Emily Joye McGaughy is a trainer with the Truth & Titus Collective, a collective based in Battle Creek, Michigan that is dedicated to fostering, co-creating, and sustaining organizational change with equity at the core. She is an alumna of The Pacific School of Religion and Catawba College. She was ordained to pastoral ministry in 2010 and served as associate pastor of First Congregational Church of Battle Creek from 2010-2015.
Her work as a facilitator, writer, activist, chaplain and pastor have convinced her that the beliefs and behaviors that most threaten us as individuals, cultures, society and species can be changed--but only with a lot of intentional unlearning and relearning, relentless honesty, relational and communal accountability and intimacy, compassion, forgiveness, and most importantly, love.
Emily Joye grew up in the east-side suburbs of Los Angeles, California. Raised by progressive parents, Emily Joye was encouraged early on to take racial realities in the United States seriously. But it wasn't until she came into an awareness of systemic racism in general and white privilege in particular that the work of anti-racism became a matter of personal, not just conceptual, investment. Today she believes that the only hope for global peace and repentance/healing of the American Soul is in the struggle for racial justice.
EJ is part of a blended, multiracial, multigenerational, queer family that continues to blow her mind and heart wide open. She loves collage, painting, cooking, deep ecology, writing, and dancing.
Liz Miller is the pastor of a progressive congregation in East Lansing, Michigan. Liz’s faith and values are inextricably tied to advocating for justice, anti-racism, gender equality, and liberation for all people.
In 2015, Liz trained to become an anti-racism facilitator in Connecticut under the leadership of Rev. Da Vita McCallister. This multiracial training seeks to unmask racism while creating a common language with which one can identify the social and institutional constructs of racism. Liz continues to lead these trainings throughout Michigan in local congregations, clergy gatherings, and with regional leadership.
Liz finds deep meaning in facilitating groups, taking joy in meeting participants where they are and co-learning alongside participants. Liz particularly enjoys bringing a wide variety of skill sets from storytelling to truth telling and from humor to heartfelt reflection.
Liz is a graduate of Andover Newton Theological School and Agnes Scott College. She serves on the Human Relations Commission of East Lansing, working to uphold and protect the rights of all East Lansing residents through public education events, police oversight, and policy changes. Liz shares a passion for justice with her spouse and stays energized through creative arts, music, and competing in triathlons.
Lois McCullen Parr
Grounded in her faith and its commitment to social justice, Lois McCullen Parr believes that anti-oppression works begins in compassion and self-love. As a writer, pastor, and activist, Lois has written about and worked for justice at the intersections of faith, race, class, disability, sexual orientation, gender, and labor.
A graduate of Otterbein College and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Lois has additional training in mediation, community organizing, and group dialogue. An ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, she has served congregations and worked as an activist for justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people (she is also a trainer for the ecumenical curriculum Building An Inclusive Church).
Lois found her life changed by participation in Doing Our Own Work, and continues to grow and learn into living with an anti-racist identity. Lois believes speaking the truth about systems of power, privilege, and oppression is critical to our nation’s need for race reparations. In addition to training with Allies for Change, Lois co-facilitates with Dr. Shayla Griffin a Justice Leaders professional development series for educators in Washtenaw County.
Diane S. Schmitz
Diane S. Schmitz, is an educator, minister, and writer with over 20 years of experience designing and leading transformational group processes. Her primary focus is working with predominantly white communities to increase the awareness and knowledge needed to be effective partners with communities of color in dismantling racism.
Diane has 17 years of experience in higher education, serving as a director in Student Development at Seattle University, with focus areas in management, equity and inclusion work, support for marginalized students, university leadership, and teaching graduate-level social justice courses in an adjunct capacity. She is an experienced designer, presenter and facilitator of webinars, seminars, workshops, trainings and conference presentations on multiple topics.
As an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Diane has a specialized ministry in racial justice that has included leading workshops, retreats, and co-facilitating training for churches seeking to become anti-racist, multicultural communities. She helps church communities to gain insight about how being socialized in a "white racial frame" has created attitudes and beliefs that shape the church and society and daily produce harmful impacts on communities of color. She believes the connection between spirituality and justice is a vital one to nurture.
Diane has a Masters of Divinity and an Ed.D. in Leadership from Seattle University. Her dissertation examined Whiteness in Jesuit Higher Education. She currently lives, works, and travels with her partner, Bill, in a 21-foot travel trailer which provides the opportunity to focus full-time on racial justice work. She blogs about spirituality, justice and living and working on the road at sophiasongs.com. Her home base is Seattle, Washington.
Diane believes every day provides an opportunity to dismantle some of her internalized white dominance through staying awake, practicing humility, taking personal responsibility for her learning and being accountable to communities of color. Her work for social justice is motivated by a deep belief in the capacity for change in individuals, organizations, and communities.
Molly Sweeney is the organizing director at 482Forward — a citywide education organizing network in Detroit committed to ensuring that all Detroit children have access to an excellent education, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. She is a native of Cleveland, Ohio.
Molly graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2009 with a degree in sociology: international social change. In partnership with Dr. Greg Markus, political science professor at the University of Michigan, Molly mentored student organizers for the University of Michigan.
After college, Molly worked at the Harriet Tubman Center and was the lead organizer with the Detroit Action Commonwealth, a union of homeless and near homeless in Detroit. With D.A.C, Molly led successful campaigns to create a homeless court, to change secretary of state policy, and to remove the question of misdemeanor and felony from city job applications. Molly is the founding organizer for the United Tenant Council of Councils (UTCC), the Detroit Section-8 tenant union. Her experience also includes international organizing and solidarity in Honduras, and study in globalization and development in India and Tibet.
Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom designs and facilitates engaging learning environments for young people and adults. He currently works as the director of programs at Experience Institute, a Chicago-based organization that develops experiential learning programs for college students and working professionals that combine the best of study abroad and co-op programs.
Aaron has come to understand that racism is present everywhere and, while it does not oppress white people, it does damage to them by making them complicit in the oppression of people of color. He sees working with people of color to dismantle white supremacy as therefore critically important as a way back to his own humanity.
He received his bachelors degree in social sciences from the University of Michigan in 1995, where he created an individualized concentration to study issues of social justice and the role of education in social change. He returned to University of Michigan for his masters of arts in education and secondary teaching certification in 2000. He lives in Chicago.